Self Care – how do you practise it?

So we looked at what Self-Care means to people, what stops us taking care of ourselves. Then I asked –

“How do you practise self-care if/when you do?”

Now there’s a case to be made about what is self-care and what is nurture, because the two things aren’t the same… I see them as occupying similar places to surviving and thriving.

We need Self-Care to survive – drink enough water, eat enough food (and hopefully more towards the nutritious end of the scale), get enough sleep, take your medications, keep clean, be in contact with supportive people, check in yourself and see how you’re doing.

It connects to the base 3 layers of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs (No, not the one with WIFI drawn in!).

Nurture seemed to connect more to the higher 3 levels, with connection to others being the overlap.

What Guidance for Approaching Learning Is There From ...

I looked at what people sent me, and wondered, is this self-care or nurture?

Does it matter? Well it might do to people who are very short on time, energy or struggling with mental health. On days where the duvet weighs a few tons and the world is dark, looking at a list of creative pursuits and listening to birdsong might seem daunting or frivolous.

And that’s not what I want these posts to be. I want to find ways of slipping Self-Care in through the chinks in our lives for when we most need it. Of starting up a Self-Care routine from just one deep breath, just one instance of asking yourself how best to be kind to yourself today, and knowing from that little droplet, if we keep dropping it, ripples will start to spread.

The most common answer I got was some form of “slowing”, of reconnecting to ourselves and what we need in that moment. How people did that depended on their lives. Some were able to use being outside, looking at nature, being away from dependants. Many mentioned being able to take time for themselves or realising that this was what they needed if possible – what people did with that time ranged from nothing at all to being physical and active, creative and crafty, focusing on nature rather than people/work/city, avoiding TV/Computer, reading fiction of choice, meditation, connecting with self by writing or talking with trusted friends, healthy or indulgent food choices (maybe depending on what the norm is?).

I’ve read a few things lately regarding how toxic some self care articles can be, how they are actually about nurture with an unspoken message that if you aren’t doing an hour of yoga every morning before your organic home cooked breakfast well it’s no wonder you’re like this! And I’m trying so very hard to not do that.

You are you. You live your life. And you need a specific set of Self-Care Tools in your toolkit.

And it’s alright to start with the small easy tools that fit.

Take a single deep breath.

Ask yourself how to be kind to yourself today.

See if there’s an answer.

If you can do more, do.

If you can’t. That’s a start for today. The ripples will spread.

 

 

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Self Care – What gets in the way?

What stops you practising self-care if/when you don’t?

My lovely friends helped me answer this question too.

While we can understand what Self-Care is and why it’s important, many of us struggle to either make it a regular part of our lives, or to include it at all. Usually at a time when we need it the most. We all harbour doubts over how much we sleep, what we eat, how active we are, how much we support the important people in our lives. We all struggle to do (or not do) things that we know will actually help us feel better.

Why?

There are many reasons and all of them valid. This post isn’t about guilt tripping anyone who finds Self-Care difficult or impossible, but hoping to acknowledge and understand why and see if we can work within the restrictions that life or our brain (or both!) impose on us.

If you find Self-Care tricky, know that you’re not alone.

Many people find that they feel guilty or selfish if they take time out for themselves – there’s always a big pile of stuff that needs doing, that task list doesn’t get smaller by itself! There are friends and family, younger and older people who need your love and attention and care, some of whom simply can’t do without you.

Sometimes we are simply too busy, there’s just too much to do and it’s real and pressured and important and we are not able to stop.

We get exhausted and ill (both physically and mentally), Self-Care can take time and energy and effort, which we simply do not have at times.

Sometimes low moods or mania, anxiety or full on depression can convince us that we simply aren’t worthy of Self-Care (or don’t need it) and that insidious voice is so loud and persuasive that we can’t argue against it, let alone take the extra step of taking care of ourselves.

Maybe we just don’t know anymore what Self-Care is for us. We just know that we don’t have room for it, or the time to investigate further.

Sometimes we’ve tried Self-Care, but perhaps we’ve overwhelmed ourselves by trying or expecting too much too soon and we burn ourselves out. We can’t keep up the regime we set ourselves and believe anything less isn’t worth it.

Or we look at the amount of information out there and get lost vacillating between healthy nutrition and indulgent treats, walking in the fresh air and allowing a duvet day. Am I practising Self-Care or being a lazy pig? And the brain gremlins perk up their ears and rattle the bars of their cages…

There are so many reasons why Self-Care is difficult or even impossible and that’s okay. Life is full and busy and chaotic and it just doesn’t stop.

So just know one thing.

Your reasons are valid.

They don’t make you a bad person. No one else can tell you how, when or if to practise Self-Care. No one else lives your life or has your priorities. Only you can know what time and energy you have (if any!) and what will work for you.

Allowing yourself to have the intention of Self-Care may allow little spaces in your brain where Self-Care can creep in. A positive thought here, a deep breath there, sounds like nothing probably, but every task big and small starts with the intention to start it. Allow yourself to start wondering what might make some positive difference to you, and maybe the first step is to let yourself accept just how tricky this is and letting that be okay.

Recognising what stops you practising Self-Care is important. Recognising that those things are real and valid is important. You, your life and everything in it, are important.

Facing the New Year

I am fond of deadlines and boundaries. They give me a focus. I self impose them all the time, but if I don’t have to, that’s great.

New Year is a big one. It allows me to shake off the emotional detritus of the past months and draw a deep fresh clean breath as I look ahead. It allows me to let go of things and reach for the new. Fresh sheets on the emotional bed.

Yes, I could do this at any time. Sometimes I do. But having the ritual and tradition of a date embeds this practise into the very core of me, so I embrace and use it.

If you’ve read this blog, or simply know me, you’ll know it’s been a tough old time this last year or so.

In the interests of closure, I will finalise something left hanging – I’d been avoiding caffeine as I underwent some tests to check out a funky heartbeat. Luckily it’s nothing to worry about. There’s a thing called ventricular ectopic beats which are common if a little unsettling at times. Keeping an eye on caffeine intake (luckily not having to avoid it altogether!) and stress levels (hear that, 2018, you’re under doctor’s orders!) and all should be well. This is actually a useful weapon against those pesky brain goblins who often dislike me “doing nothing” as they view resting.

The death of my grandad shook me deeply, while not unexpected, it was the first family death I’d experienced for three decades, the first grandparent I’ve lost (knowingly as I don’t know my paternal grandfather) and it rippled on a number of emotional and existential levels. It also toppled the psychological box I’d been stuffing unprocessed grief into as I told myself I was coping and moving forward and out tumbled all the feelings I’d pushed aside as I tried to build up a new life. I was emotionally running before I could stand. I’ve learnt that lesson and slowed down. Back to clearing the ground before building my foundations. I don’t have to reach the sky yet. The first bricks are still waiting to be laid.

So as I look ahead to the new year, almost ironically, the first task is to let myself fully grieve for all that’s gone, all the changes that have happened and everything I’ve experienced. To allow myself to be still and rest. To breathe and just BE for a while. Part of my duties moving forward has to be taking better care of myself, not pushing myself as hard as I was. Not trying to have everything NOW. Ensuring I receive the nurture I give out; whether that’s from myself or close ones. Make the time set aside for rest and recuperation just as important as time spent building a new social life in my new town and making my work life what I need it to be.

Slowly the year will unfold around me in it’s own time. I have the confidence to know that I will get out there and experience it. The fear of isolation is just a fear and unfounded. I will explore my new home town more fully. I hope to branch out socially with new activities and reclaim the yoga and bellydancing classes that I dropped in recent months due to exhaustion. I hope to have time for my creative projects, time for meditation and mindfulness, for health and fitness. Time for friends, both old and new and those yet to be made.

Exploration and nurture seem to be my keywords for the year ahead. I like those words.

If I forget, please remind me of them. Especially the second.

wolf

Anniversaries

“Bear with…” as Miranda’s friend would say…

It’s a time of anniversaries.

I hope it won’t last, I hope this time, this first time, is an anomalous dip. But I’ve now come through my difficult year and have entered the anniversary stage, the “this time last year” stage and for a while, it’s going to be painful.

I won’t allow myself to wallow, but neither should I forget. Forgetting means I don’t allow myself to recognise how far I’ve come, how much I’ve built, how brave and strong I’ve been.

And, how far I’ve yet to go, how much is yet unexplored and undiscovered in this new life of mine, this new version of me.

This time last year I was only just facing up to the decisions I had finally admitted I needed to make, but the pain of making them was still too great to bear. I only prolonged it.

This time last year I had balked against the idea of needing such major surgery and was waiting on a specialist to gently tell me that was the only option I had. While the physical effects are mostly healed, even my scar is fading into celebratory silver, the odd ache and twinge is echoed in a strange emotional reaction. While I was utterly content with my decision to not have children, while I have no reason to believe I would ever have changed my mind (especially having reached my early 40s), to have that decision, that choice, removed from me… that shook me to a depth I had no idea existed.

This time last year, my entire life was limbo for months to come.

So bear with me as I move through these next months. I may be erratic in my emotions, I may cope one moment and feel overwhelmed the next. I may speak up or withdraw.

I’m still grieving for all that I lost, all that I walked away from, the choices that were taken away or never really existed.

But there’s a reason I had a phoenix inscribed on my skin this last week. The image that sits after the semi-colon, the next part of my sentence.

We will rise. And fly.

phoenix

Of bellies and dancing

I did it.

I went to the belly dancing taster.

Something I’ve been wanted to try for decades and never found the confidence. If ever there is a time for faking it till I make it, it’s now. I also figure what better way to regain core strength and confidence after my hysterectomy than with something so intrinsically and fundamentally feminine?

New town. New home. New life. But not a new me…. a more me. A deeply strongly confidently solely me.

This week was about being big and brave. Diving straight into that deep end. Finding a yoga class, starting the deep work with my counsellor, discussing a new project and this. Dancing. Belly dancing. New people. New place. Several things that alone make me anxious and here am I combining them.

Tonight was a demonstration raising money for some charity or other, then a chance to try it out.

The setting was incongruous – an old man’s fishermans club so I felt so incredibly self conscious with a fair amount of people sat round watching, but still I did it. I did make sure I was close to the stage furthest from any audience. 

I’d started talking to a woman outside while we waited to go in, someone who looked as nervous and as unsure as me. She was in a similar position – always wanted to try it and never before had the confidence. We agreed to look after each other. We sat together and chatted while waiting for things to get started, shared a bit of our life stories, found some similarities. 

What she failed to tell me was she knew several other people who were also turning up, so all of a sudden I’m introducing myself to several new people and being unexpectedly social! Everyone was friendly and included me in their social conversation without a second blink. 

The demonstration thrilled me with the rich vibrant colours and the flowing silky or chiffon fabrics, the glint and the ting of golden discs and the fuck your conventional body shapes sexiness.

Then it was our turn. 

I have fuck all core strength, not much balance (you need core strength for that it seems) and I swear I used to have some coordination and dexterity. Which arm goes with what leg again? Oh, we’re turning now. Oops, other way!

I felt awkward and exposed and vulnerable. 

But I also felt a glimmer of what it could be. 

The power. The strength. The confidence.

One of the women in the dance class (not the sea gypsies performance group who were also there and performed) approached me and started chatting. A mind blowing 62 years old (does not look nor act it, I want to be her), she was so friendly and made it easy for me to take down the details of the Tuesday night class (I’ll have to swap yoga to Thursdays…) and agree to go along. The lady I’d got chatting to outside is planning to go too. I made her promise.

I was checking what to wear, admitting I loved the outfits and the lovely dance lady gave me a coin belt. One I’ll wear to my first class.

At that point all the emotions came up to say hello and I don’t want to walk home alone too late in a city I’m still learning so I excused myself and left.

Laughter and tears mixing as I walk home.

I did it. And I can’t wait for Tuesday. 

My weekend with the NHS

I’ve hesitated in writing this because it felt indulgent.

But then I wondered if a positive NHS post was worth me and maybe others considering me being indulgent. So here are a few moments from my story of a weekend being looked after by the NHS.

I went to Worthing Hospital on Friday 21st April 2017 at Midday for a routine but pretty major surgery – a subtotal abdominal hysterectomy for one large multiple fibroids that couldn’t be treated any other way.

When my anxiety kicked in waiting for to be collected for surgery, I was able to stay in a small consulting room rather than the main waiting area, my friend was brought to me, and this made it easier for me to both allow and control my feelings.

When lying on the hospital bed clad only in surgical gown and a blanket I felt incredibly exposed as the reality of the surgery came closer with every tick of the clock. The tears came and the anaesthetic room receptionist was immediately there with tissues, she held my hand and chatted to me for as long as she was able to. Throughout my little wait in that room on that bed, she kept checking on me, including me in conversations with the medical staff who came and went. My details were checked a further few times. Each time they apologised about having to go through things so many times, but better certain than not! One of the ladies told me she was assisting on the surgery and I asked a favour. I had no idea of the reality, the size and shape, of what was being taken from me. I asked if it was possible to get any details. She said she’d try. After surgery that lady came to find me on the ward to let me know she’d weighed the thing in question and gave me it’s mass. She didn’t have to do that.

The ladies administering my anaethetic were delightfully batshit, without being unprofessional. They made me laugh. Not an easy thing considering how much I hate needles. She told me how I would feel when the anaethetic was administered and the cold tingling feeling in my right arm is the last thing I remember until I woke up two and a half hours later.

When I woke some surgery, someone sat by my bed for an hour and a half as I drifted in and out of coherence. They answered the questions I was able to form, gave me water and didn’t leave my side. She told me what the time was, and that my friends were waiting for me in the ward that I would be taken to.

During that night I was constantly checked on, medication taken, stats recorded and comfort given when the lack of sleep and the sounds of distress from a very elderly lady who wasn’t in distress (they checked many many times) got too much for me.

I was encouraged and helped by a very cheerful and friendly healthare assistance to get up, wash and dress and sit in a chair.

A nurse held bags of bodily fluids in order to take me for a walk around the ward.

I was quietly allowed to have one more visitor than was usually permitted.

They moved me to a quieter ward the second night as they knew I’d struggled the night before.

They ensured I had everything I needed and knew everything I needed to know in order to go home on the Sunday afternoon as I was desperate to start recovering in my own home. When I say “I” in this paragraph, I mean my friend…. I was incapable of organising my own two feet at this point, but they knew I was in good hands and utterly eager to go home. However, the choice to stay a further night was there and was mine.

All of this care. All of the medication – pain meds, anti clotting injections, wound dressings – that went home with me. Everything used during my stay. This was all free. I only had to focus on my healing and my recovery. There was nothing else demanding my attention, nothing else to organise, no future bills, payments or insurance to organise. I was able to have this operation despite it not being life threatening (although it was life affecting). Yes, there was a wait, but a few months for free surgery and excellent care. I think I had a lucky experience.

When I was called a couple of weeks later in a follow up call, after all the questions had been dealt with I told the nurse how happy I was with my care, how everyone I’d come into contact with had contributed to my feeling supported and looked after.

The only negative thing about my encounter was the surprise and gratitude in her voice when she thanked me for this and I wondered how often she and her colleagues heard it.

NHS, you are amazing. We need you. I hope you are given the attention and value you need to survive then thrive.

 

Gratitude

Gratitude can be difficult when we’re struggling with anxiety issues, the world can be a scary place, our brain chemicals are going haywire, often our bodies are achingly tired and being aware of anything other than perceived threats can take an effort we don’t feel we have the energy for.

Gratitude can also be a spiritual tool to beat ourselves up with as passive aggressive meme’s suggest that we wouldn’t be in the state we are if only we were more grateful for what we have, reminding us that many in the world are worse off than we, so how selfish are you to be struggling? Not useful, not kind, not actually spiritual in my little corner of the world.

Your experience is your experience and someone else being better or worse off has absolutely zero impact on how you perceive and interact with the world. Also, being grateful that someone is worse off than you isn’t actually gratitude – it’s comparison –  and that won’t have a positive effect on the brain…

Yet, despite it being misused sometimes, gratitude is a good habit to get into, and this is backed up by neuroscience (SCIENCE BABY, YEAH!). It doesn’t matter what we are grateful for, it doesn’t even matter if we can’t come up with anything, the act of looking for something to be grateful for can be the trigger to a happier brain over time. Google the neuroscience of gratitude and see what you find, there have been various studies done on the matter.

Over the years I’ve kept several gratitude journals for various periods of time, and I’ve learnt a few things.

1 – Don’t wait for the perfect notebook/pen etc. Don’t think, I’ll start this when I’ve bought a nice book to write in. That’s just procrastination, you’ll rarely if ever get around to buying the “perfect” book for your journal, it’s just a way of not starting the exercise. You doubtless have some form of paper and pen/pencil lying around. Use that. It doesn’t matter what you write on or even whether you keep it. The act of doing it is all that matters. You don’t even need a pen and paper, if you’re reading this, you likely have an electronic device you can write on. Use that! By all means get a nice notebook if such things make you happy, but don’t use that as a reason not to start. Start, then get the notebook as and when you can.

1(A) – On that note – don’t worry or give yourself a hard time about finding a certain number of things to be grateful for or even doing it each day – all that means is it’s easier to give up if you can’t achieve your certain number or you miss a day. Try and make it a habit (keeping it by your bedside for example) but if you miss a day, so what? Just pick it up again the day/week/month/year after. It doesn’t matter when you don’t do it, just when you do. Of course all these things are better when done regularly, but doing them at all is more important.

2 – Writing or thinking about WHY you’re grateful for that thing works wonders if you have the energy to do this. Once, many years ago, I was grateful for a random phone call from a fellow student. I wrote that down. Then I thought about why, and realised how isolated and lonely I’d been feeling in class and how that phone call had helped me feel a little more connected and part of the group. Suddenly I was even more grateful for the call and happier when I got back to class. Writing all that down takes effort, I know. You don’t have to, just thinking about it works too.

3 – It doesn’t matter what you’re grateful for. We all have days where all we have to be grateful for is our bed/sofa, blanket/duvet. Be grateful for those things, they matter.

4 – There’s always something to be grateful for, even if it takes some searching. If you’re reading this, you likely have the first layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sorted.

Maslow’s Updated Hierarchy of Needs

You likely have access to the internet and a device to access it on. You likely have a roof over your head and something to eat and drink that day. Hopefully a toilet that works. Someone you could interact with if you chose to. Clothes to wear if you wanted to get dressed. Sometimes paring back to the bare essentials is necessary, but these are still things to be grateful for. You can climb up the pyramid another day.

5 – It doesn’t matter how begrudgingly grateful you are! There are days you just don’t want to be damn well grateful! The world flipping sucks and why should you be grateful for anything damn it?! And that’s fine! Do the exercise anyway, allow the frustration and anger to be there as well. Looking for things to be grateful about doesn’t mean you have to not feel upset, sad, angry, frustrated and whatever else you’re feeling. You can feel those as well. Feelings are just feelings. We prefer some to others, but they all have their place and a right to exist. We can be angry and still grateful the bus arrived on time. We can be sad and still grateful we have a cup of tea. We can be utterly fed up with every single thing, and still grateful there’s an episode of something distracting to watch. We are manifold and we can contain many and conflicting emotions at once and that’s fine.

6 – Gratitude doesn’t have to be kept to a journal. This ties in with saying thank you to compliments. Say thank you to your loved ones, let them know as much as you’re able to how much you appreciate them. Say thank you to the bus driver or the shop assistant – why shouldn’t we be thanked for doing our jobs? Express little bits of gratitude whenever and wherever you can and gradually they work to make us feel better and the world less scary.

Thank you for reading this 🙂 Whether you’re a stranger or a friend, I’m grateful you took the time and if I do know you, thank you for being in my life, you give me lots to be grateful for.